Lessons from a Four-Year-Old

My little guy turned four a couple weeks ago—but he would take umbrage at being described as little. Despite his reticence toward strangers, he does not hesitate to correct anyone who has called him “little fella” or the like. “’SCUSE me. I am a BIG boy.” (Later he’ll recount the conversation with disgust: “And that guy thought I was little,”—insulted, yes, but mainly astonished that anyone would make such a gross error in judgment.)

This morning he was drawing at the kitchen table. “Come here, Mommy; I have something to teach you. See?” I went to see. “See? If you make a red thing and then color over it with a blue marker, you get a purple thing.” He carefully ran his already-inky fingers over the purple thing. “Except if you color too much with marker in one place, it gets wet and makes a hole, so you have to be careful.”

I took up the blue and the red markers and crafted a purple blob, sans hole. He nodded, satisfied. “I like to teach people things.”

And Ace has indeed proven to be an effective teacher in his four years.

When, at age 10 months, he piled books in front of a baby gate in order to scale it and the next evening actually started to dissemble another baby gate (yes, really), he showed that with a little effort, one not ever need be fenced in.

When, at age 18 months, he seized my hands and dragged me away from chopping vegetables to laugh and dance with him and Sonny to “If I Had a Hammer” in the hall, he illustrated that the carpe momentum opportunities are far more valuable than whatever it is that they’re interrupting.

When he began to fiercely resist having his teeth brushed, he taught me (or, more accurately, forced me to learn) the art of an effective headlock.

When he is eating something particularly scrumptious (be it tangerine slice, M&M, or sunbutter sandwich) and offers someone else a bite—persistently poking it into his or her mouth at the first sign of resistance—he displays not only generosity but also the art of receiving graciously what another is excited to offer. Even if it’s a smudged M&M.

When he stands at the sliding door patiently watching a chipmunk (whom he always dubs Chippy) eat the animal corn he scattered on the deck, he models the importance of taking delight in the small things.

When, first at age 2, and then 3, and now 4 he insists on wearing his beloved firefighter boots to church, yea, even  with his Easter suit, he teaches the entire congregation that a) fashion is not as important as personal style and b) it’s not the kid’s job to make the mom look like she’s on top of things.

When he retreats from a crowded gathering, explaining, “I need some alone time now,” and then emerges, refreshed, 20 minutes later, he proves that introversion requires no apology.

When he spends five minutes buckling his car seat rather than accepting help, he teaches me the importance of doing for oneself. (And patience. Sitting in the garage for five minutes also teaches me patience. I hope.)

When he rejects part of (okay, most of) his wardrobe because “these clothes are not soft, Mommy!” he demonstrates that life is too short to choose needlessly uncomfortable options.

When he stamps and roars through the house in an uncanny imitation of a lumbering T. Rex, he personifies the delightful power of imagination.

When, mere minutes after I snap at him for some not very good reason,  he creeps up behind me, giggling, to tickle the backs of my knees, he challenges me to be a better forgiver-and-forgetter, like him.

And finally, when he bravely advises strangers that he is not little, he shouts to the world that nobody ever has the right to make another person feel small. Ever.

Happy birthday, big guy.